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LITERATURE AND THE LITERARY JUDGMENT DOROTHY WALSH The "greatness" of literature cannot be determined solely by literary standards; though we must remember that whether it is literature or not can be determined only by literary standards. T. S. ELIOT' No poet, no artist of any art, has his complete meaning alone. His significance, his appreciation is the appreciation of his relation to the dead poets and artists. You cannot value him alone; you must set him for comparison and contrast among the dead. I mean this as a principle of aesthetic, not merely historical criticism. T. S. ELIOr I s there a discrepancy between these pronouncements? The first says that we must look beyond the realm of literature to arrive at an appraisal of literary greatness. The second says that to determine the significance and the appreciation of a work of literature we must compare and contrast it with other works of literature. There is, indeed, no discrepancy if we assume that the second quotation has reference to a more limited judgment than that envisioned by the first. The belief that a work of literature is properly subject to two distinguishable judgments of appraisal, one of which evaluates it as art and the other of which evaluates it as wisdom, is so common that there must be something about the nature of literature to evoke it. But in this case, as in others, the discovery of some empirical basis for a theory does not necessarily reach to the justification of the theory. If there are phenomena that need to be "saved," there may yet be more than one path to that salvation. Though it is unlikely that programmes of theoretical salvation are adopted for the reason that no alternative has been considered, yet it seems worth-while to attempt to restate a position, for something new, however modest, may thus emerge. This essay is not a discussion of Mr. Eliot's views. It is a general defence of the doctrine that greatness in literature is something that must be discovered within the domain of literature and judged by strictly literary standards. Otherwise expressed , what is special and peculiar about the art of literature can be accommodated by saying that literature is not just like any other art and that it is unnecessary to pass beyond this to the assertion that literature is not just art. lEssays Anci4!'nt and Modern (New York, 1936),92. 2Selected Essays 1917-1932 (London, 1932). 4-5. 341 Vol. XXIV, no. 4, July, 1955 342 UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO QUARTERLY There are two initial questions that need to he raised. How does literature differ from other forms of writing? How does literature differ from other forms of art? If it be objected that to ask both questions is to prejudge the issue-in that each suggests the answer to the other-the objection is sustained. But have we a plausible alternative? There is, after all, no use pretending that simple empirical inspection will enable us to "find" works of literature in the same sense in which we can find butterflies or oak trees. We can find linguistic compositions but if we assume, as seems sensible, that not all of these are works of literature, we must venture a classification, and however much we may endeavour to base this on observed characteristics , the act of selection of these is not carried out in a condition of theoretical innocence. What cannot be evaded had better be acknowledged. Our first question therefore becomes: Is there any way of distinguishing the artistic from the non-artistic employment of language? All attempts to arrive at this distinction by reference to the presence or absence of isolated linguistic elements, such as figures of speech or a selective vocabulary of poetic or literary diction, are inadequate. It seems, then, that the distinction must be made in terms of totality of compositional design. It is, I think, possible to describe, in a general way, the difference between two types of pattern for linguistic composition , one of which may be said to be artistic and the other nonartistic . However, it must be acknowledged that this distinction can be brought out only by contrasting clear and...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 341-350
Launched on MUSE
2015-07-01
Open Access
No
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